Friday, September 12, 2008

Ironman Cancun 70.3 -- 2008

Cancun Race Report:

The vitals: 5:00:43. 34:xx swim; 2:27:xx bike; 1:52:xx run. 5th in the 40-44 AG. 9 minute PR -- although since I'm pretty new to the sport, that seems to describe just about every race I'm doing.

So I finally managed to break through and qualify for Clearwater after a long season of unsuccessful attempts at various 70.3 races.

This was supposed to be a fast day. The course is basically flat so I expected the fast bike split, but I also expected a little better swim and a much faster run, neither of which were on the menu. Cancun wasn't screwing around today. There was a rough chop on the swim, a brisk headwind during the last 15 miles of the bike, and scorching heat and humidity during the run (Honestly, I've never run in hotter-feeling weather. If it weren't for the aid stations being every kilometer and for the ample supply of ice and cold water, I'm not sure I could have run the whole thing). Throw in a long run from the swim to T1 and you've got yourself a challenging race.

After being bounced around like a 4-seat Sesna in a thunderstorm during the 2-loop swim course, we enjoyed a lengthy beach run to an empty water park, a run through the water park and onto an asphalt road and then into T1. The swim was just a little quirky too. You don't actually get out of the water after the first loop, and because we started in waves we had to merge into a later wave during the second lap -- not a huge deal -- just odd to have to swim with more people on the second lap than the first.

The first 15 miles on the bike were bliss. I rode at a 200 watt average, which produced about 26 - 27 mph as we flew along the flats with a tailwind. Unfortunately, we had to deal with that same wind in the bad direction during the return legs of the ride. All told though, I couldn't have been happier with the bike split.

I will admit to being a little frustrated with the lack of drafting enforcement as several peletons of up to 30 competitors were riding wheel-to-wheel all day. The officials not only observed it, but actually rode right next to the peletons (creating an even bigger draft). According to some, the officials said they weren't handing out penalties, but were trying to make the packs slow down by riding alongside -- not a successful strategy as far as I could tell. My own take on the lack of enforcement is that it would have been a logistical nightmare to put a couple hundred riders through the penalty tent process.

Fortunately, despite there being a lot of people with fresh legs after the bike leg, I only lost two spots on the run -- and at least one of those spots was taken from me by a guy who was suffering alone on the bike not far behind me. So I probably wasn't directly affected by the packs, but this being the first race that I've seen this sort of behavior, it does challenge your faith in the sportsmanship of your fellow competitors.

The run, as I said, was indescribably hot. Like running in a steam shower sitting directly on the surface of the sun. I ate 6 salt stick pills and grabbed about a hundred plastic baggies of water (yes plastic baggies), which I variously drank and showered in. There may have been more people walking than running, so I called on my 07 Kona experience and just ran to survive at whatever pace I could manage.

When I finished, I joined a group of guys sitting directly in the tubs of ice cooling the gatorade bottles for a few minutes and then spent a half hour sitting with about 10 over-heated finishers under a huge communal shower set up right in the finishing area -- maybe the single greatest invention I've ever seen.

Even considering the drafting issues, my hat's off to the race organizers. This was easily the most professionally run 70.3 event I've done. Our race fees not only got us the usual finisher's shirt, but free bus transportation to the bike check-in and to the race site, a pre-race meal, a fleece logo jacket (ok, so it's not useful in Cancun, but for those of us who don't live on the surface of the sun, we'll find it very useful), and a post race party. Registration was professional and efficient and the transition areas, finish line and grandstands were almost the equal of a full IM. It was apparent that the race organizers worked their tails off to make this a great race experience (and perhaps that's in part why they were reluctant to play hardball with the drafters).

Throw in a 1 hour PR for my buddy Sharkbait and the opportunity to meet some really interesting people from all over South America (and Minnesota -- Hi Marta) and this unexpectedly turns out to have been my favorite 70.3 of the year (although Honu is still my favorite race location).